Image: Remy Sharp
When I was younger, one of the highlights (or low points) of the year was the school disco, an event which has now been largely superseded by the School Prom, an import from America that does it bigger and better. Now that we are adults, it seems the Americans have done it again, this time with Christmas shopping; yes I am of course talking about Black Friday, which this year is on the 27th November.
The one day event where retailers slash prices in an effort to get us all worked up about Christmas shopping has provided our screens with crazy footage of people fighting over big screen TV’s and other sought after items, and this year it is set to be bigger than ever!
How did Black Friday come about?
Black Friday is a shopping event on the Friday after Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November. Since Thanksgiving is a national holiday in America, many take the Friday off to make a 4 day weekend, and with shops open, it has traditionally been the day that kicks off the festive shopping season.
What is Cyber Monday?
The Monday following Thanksgiving is also known as Cyber Monday, as data shows it is the biggest online retail day of the year with online sales of £810 million in the UK in 2014. The deals are also not limited to just these 2 days, you should see a raft of great deals throughout November and December.
So how do you go about safely getting that great deal? Here are our top ten tips to help you stay safe when shopping online this Christmas.
1. Plan where to shop
All the major online retailers already have special pages dedicated to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but they will not tell you what the deals are actually going to be until the day. Some will allow you to access the deals early by signing up to their mailing list.
Work out which items you want to buy, and check that the online retailers who have Black Friday events sell those items. Then sign up to their mailing lists so you know in plenty of time whether the items you want are going to be on offer.
Smaller online retailers may also have deals that can beat the bigger outlets, either on Black Friday or during November and December. Use search engines such as Google Shopping to find the best price.
2. Check the company is reputable
So you have found the product you want at a great price, but you have never heard of the retailer, how do you know they are all they are cracked up to be?
Always check that the company is reputable, this can be done fairly simply starting by looking for the obvious signs: check that the company is displaying a UK based address and telephone number on their website, that they have a number of contact avenues over and above an email address or contact form.
You could also take their limited company number and check it is still active on the companies register
, this will also tell you how long they have been trading and what other company names they have used previously.
Make sure you feel confident they are who they say they are, if you are not sure – look elsewhere.
3. Read Reviews
Sites such as Google Shopping will aggregate shopping reviews from various sources, and dedicated review sites such as Trustpilot, Reevoo, and Review Centre will enable you to see what other people are saying about the retailer you are thinking of using.
Average ratings are useful in that if they have a high rating with a large number of reviews, then they should be a reputable online retailer. If their average rating is not quite hitting the 5/5 mark, it is always worth delving a little deeper to see why customers were not happy with their service.
Sometimes the poor ratings are generated by things such as slow delivery times, which you may not care about to get a good price. Check the website is upfront about slow delivery if this is the case. But if the reviews cite problems such as unresponsive customer service or poor quality items then you should think about avoiding those retailers and taking your money elsewhere.
4. Check your basket before going through to the checkout
Before you go through to the checkout, check you have selected the right products and quantities, and as you proceed through the checkout process make sure you have explored all postage options, some retailers will for example add express postage as the default when they offer a slower but cheaper alternative.
5. Verify the checkout is secure
Image Graeme Newcomb
When buying online, you want to know that your transaction is going to be handled securely, there are a number of things to do here:
Is the connection secure?
The first thing to check is that the checkout process is secured by SSL. You can do this by looking at your browsers address bar and look for the padlock icon, also check that the address begins with https://. This means that the communication between you and the website is secure.
Sometimes the payment page will be hosted somewhere else, such as Paypal, this is fine, just make sure that the page where you enter your personal details is secure as well as the payment page.
Do you need to register?
Only register an account with a website if you think you will purchase from them again, otherwise checkout as a guest, although some websites require registration. If you do register, make sure to use a strong password that is not the same as your other passwords.
Does the merchant support 3D Secure?
Make sure the merchant used by the online retailer supports 3D Secure for your card type. Depending on your card provider this will be called “Verified by Visa”, “MasterCard SecureCode”, and “American Express SafeKey”. As well as offering better protection against online card fraud, this also moves the liability for certain types of Chargebacks onto the card issuer.
6. Protect your personal information
Giving online retailers your personal details is an inevitable part of online shopping, they need to know your email address to send you a copy of your invoice and keep you up to date with shipping etc. And of course they will need your address, otherwise they will not know where to send the items!
So you want to know that they are going to look after your details and not use them for purposes outside of what is needed for the shopping process.
Enter minimal details
Firstly only enter your details into the required fields, if the field is optional; do not enter data into it unless you think they need it. An example of this is that they may not require you to put a phone number in, but if you are having a large item delivered, it might be worth giving them your phone number so they can stay in direct contact to arrange delivery. Beware of any newsletters that you may be signed up to as part of the checkout process, legally if you buy something retailers are automatically allowed to opt you in to marketing materials, but most will give you the option to opt out.
Check protection assurances
You also want to know that the retailer is going to look after your data once they have it, be sure to scroll to the bottom of the homepage, and see what assurances they give you about protection of customers through their shopping experience, be that external review site, money back guarantees, or data protection statements.
7. Know your rights when buying online
Image: Wikimedia Commons
The law has recently been updated when it comes to your consumer rights, it is now covered under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and came into force on October 1st 2015. It replaced the Sales of Goods Act 1979.
Make sure the goods that arrive are as described, if the website description is different to what you received or the quality is not satisfactory, you are entitled to a full refund
The goods should be fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time
If something is faulty, you are entitled to a full refund within 30 days, after this your rights become more limited, such as being able to ask for repair, replacement, or partial refund
If you would like to know more check out this handy guide.
8. Extra protection from your credit card
Image: Marcus Ranum
Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 states that a credit provider must take the same responsibility as a retailer if things go wrong. This protection covers most purchases that are between £100 and £30,000 and means that if for example, the company that you bought something off went into liquidation before you received your goods, you can claim the money back from your credit provider.
This protection covers credit cards, store cards, store instalment credit and some car finance agreements where a single item is between those values. As an added bonus, even if you just pay for part of the item on credit, you are still protected for the full value of the item.
So if you are making any big purchases this Christmas, make sure some or all of it is paid for on credit. Find out more here.
9. What to do when something goes wrong
Hopefully the buying process will be completely pain free, but if something does go wrong, you want to know you can easily solve it. If you have used the tips above and you are dealing with a reputable online retailer, the process should be fairly painless.
The first port of call is to contact the retailer; email is probably easiest as you can deal with their responses in your own time, and you will have a paper trail to refer back to. Whatever method you use, make sure you have the purchase details handy, such as your email address, the order number and a concise description of the problem.
If you are having trouble getting hold of the retailer, make sure you try all methods of contact that they offer, failing this you could look for alternative methods such as Twitter, if you think taking it public my force them into taking you seriously, or you could contact the Citizens Advice Bureau or Trading Standards.
As a final resort you can take them to court, which if the value of the goods is under £5,000, you can do in small claims court without a solicitor.
10. Check for added protection when using a marketplace
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Online marketplaces such as Amazon and Ebay as well as selling their own products, are a storefront for other retailers to sell you their goods, so as well as dealing with the main website, you are also dealing with a third party seller. Your buying rights do not change with this arrangement, but it can make things more complex if things go wrong.
To mitigate this, some marketplaces such as those mentioned above offer extra moneyback guarantees if there are problems. So if you have any issues with the product and the seller is being unreasonable, you can elevate it to the marketplace and they will often refund you and take the money out of the sellers account.
Hopefully these tips will help you have some confidence when buying online this Christmas, the more you do, the easier you will find it to recognise what is good and what is bad. And if a deal sounds too good to be true – it probably is!
Our Digital Literacy resource for teachers offers lesson plans that cover some of the topics in this article to help your students stay safe online. Go to http://digital-literacy.org.uk/ and sign-up for free.